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Two grants open door for Pine Island environmental projects

By Staff | Jan 17, 2012

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved two agenda items recently that will greatly benefit the wildlife and land on Pine Island last week.

The commissioners approved the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant in the amount of $63,000 Jan. 10 to remove exotics and plant native vegetation in the Galt Preserve in St. James City.

Conservation 20/20 Senior Supervisor Cathy Olson said the grant, which she wrote, is a highly competitive grant.

“There were only three given in the country,” she said. “I was lucky enough to get it for the county.”

Phil Buchanan said the Galt Island Avenue Association, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and the DEP State Park Preserves wrote letters to help obtain the grant. He said the grant took six months, which is fast.

The grant, Olson said, will allow them to treat exotic plants on a big chunk of the site, along with planting natives and monitoring some of the areas on the preserve.

She said a few exotic plant control companies have already removed the Brazilian pepper trees and Australian pines, which will now be replaced by native plants.

“Last year we logged out the majority of the bigger material,” Olson said about the trees.

Buchanan said the removal of the trees was done at no cost to the taxpayers. Although the project was done for free, only areas that were convenient for the workers were done, Buchanan said.

“It looks pretty good,” he said, adding that now “we are back to paying for it ourselves again.”

Buchanan said the $63,000 will go a long way to finish the job since a lot has already been done.

Olson said this year they will spot treat what grew up from the seed source or the root stock of the trees that was left there.

Since the commissioners approved the grant, she said she will write a scope of work and put it out to the contracting companies for a bid. She believes they will begin working on the property in the next month or so after they receive some of the bids back.

The County Commissioners also approved $772,000 to purchase 218.8 acres on Pine Island.

Harold Bruner, Land Acquisition Chair for the Calusa Land Trust, said the process began two years ago when he had lunch with Buchanan and two others who were representing the property.

“We sat down and talked about garnering support on Pine Island if this was nominated for 20/20 acquisition,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to the owners of this property. So many owners are impatient and won’t take the time.”

The Calusa Land Trust decided that when looking at a piece of property to preserve, they would either support it, make a financial contribution or contribute co-management for the piece of property.

“We just don’t support everything,” Bruner said, adding that sometimes they take on the role of all three.

When discussions were first being held about the property at Pine Island Center, he said it was easy to see that it was a key piece of property.

“It is one of the largest tracks of property bought for preservation on the island,” Bruner said. “In terms of size, it was a critical key parcel. It was easy for the land trust to say yes.”

Bruner said they pledged $20,000 for the piece of property, which is only the second time that amount of money has been offered.

“That showed that yes we support it and we will offer co-management,” he said, which will come into play once a year. “We went as far as we could and are thrilled to know that it has been acquired.”

The long narrow piece of property runs from Pine Island Elementary School, south of Pine Island Road, to the water plant.

“Anytime an organization looks at adding preserved land, it is a huge benefit to wildlife and the preserve standpoint,” Bruner said.

The 218.8 acres was originally plated for a subdivision, he said, which is not going to happen on Pine Island anymore.

“It will forever be preserved for water quality and wildlife and wetlands,” Bruner said.